Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kentucky Derby Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 8th Edition
191.4 miles raced in 2009

Race: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon
Place: Louisville, KY
Miles from home: 1582 miles
Weather: 70-80s; WAY too damn hot and sunny

Well, even my watch did not wish for me to write this recap.

Back in 2007, several marathons in October experienced unprecedented heat. I was fortunate to run one of them that was not that bad at the Steamtown Marathon. Chicago received the brunt of the bad press, not for the heat (although some people blame RDs for the weather which always makes me laugh) but for the lack of adequate supplies (eg., water) and seeming disarray on the course and relatively flippant attitude by the RD post-race. I don't envy the RD of Chicago for anything, to be truthful. And I hope that no RD has to deal with hot weather, especially unexpectedly.

Enter the Kentucky Derby Marathon. A few days before the race it became quite apparent it was going to be hot for race day. There is not much you can do about that, especially when it is this early in the year and most of us have been running in very cool temps. At my speech on Friday night before the marathon, I spoke about how I simply do not run well in heat. There are very few people who are worse off than me when the temperature goes high. I was asked how I felt I would run the next day with the projected high 70s -low 80s. I said: "Probably far harder than I would want to as a 3:10 pacer." I hate being right all the time.

Race Day:

Being a pacer sometimes getting to the start way too early so people can find you. My ideal race would start outside my door and I would arrive there about 8 minutes beforehand. I was not a fan of getting up at 5 AM for at 7:30 AM start time because of the necessity to ride a short ride to the start. As this weekend included VERY little sleep I was relishing all the shut eye I could get before hitting the course. I did not get as much as I would have liked. Was that a factor in what would come to play? Maybe a little but more likely it was the 73 degrees that was sitting in Louisville at 6 AM. Not good.

I lined up in the corral and told my pacees my usual spiel. I could not carry them, but I would do everything else possible within my power to get them to a 3:10 time. Even as I was already sweating I figured I would be OK.

After a beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by a young lady whose name I did not catch, the gun was fired and we were underway. The first few miles were spent picking our way through the crowds as both the half-marathon and the marathon followed the same route for about 12 miles. While I think this is nice as it gives runners someone to be with for a good portion of their race, with a non-corral start, this often leads to hundreds of people needing to be passed who obviously think far too highly of their running skills. Until the end of time I will not full comprehend why people start so close to the start when it is so demoralizing to get passed by so many. But I digress.

We hit the first set of hills through the very pretty Iroquois Park. Mostly uphill for about 2-3 miles, there was just enough downhill to get you excited and think that you were about to leave the park. Soon we were out of the park and heading towards the 10k mark.

3:10 pace for the first 10k = 44:56
Our time = 44:48
Not too shabby.

To Halfway
I have neglected posting my usual mile splits but trust me when I say they were just as even as they were for the first 10k. This section of the race was about 99% flat and included a cool little jaunt through Churchill Downs. As we ran through a tunnel and into the infield of the famed horse racing venue, we could see horses warming up on the dirt oval around us. Pretty surreal.

Long before we exited Churchill Downs at mile 9 I was drenched in sweat. My orange singlet and pacer shorts were almost dark red. In previous pacing efforts I often do not even think of drinking until late in the race as I am making sure everyone else keeps hydrated. This time, however, I was drinking at every aid station.

While we were getting into thinner crowds of runners, I was also losing runners far earlier than usual. I had the distinct feeling I was going to be running alone when the race enter the final 8 miles.

As we went through the halfway point, we also passed the first female, who looked to be about 16 years old (and actually turned out to be 22). Her father (possibly coach) seemed to be providing support for her and might have been a little to excited/demanding for her tastes. I know that a few of the runners commented on him as we ran by.

To mile 20

I had mistakenly thought the hills of the second park in this course started at mile 18 so I was surprised when we hit them at mile 16. I say "we" but really it was "me". I had more or less lost every single pacer at this point as everyone had fallen off or, in the case of a group of three runners, ran about 7 yards in front of me and continually looked back to see where I was. Not quite sure they were doing this and not working with me but it was job to keep an even pace, not engaged in some pissing contest with a few runners wanting to run a few seconds faster than the pacer.

Unfortunately, I was tiring. At mile 19, I took my first walk break (unscheduled) of the race. I need water and I needed to drink it now. As we hit a hill, I felt this would be the perfect place to do so. I had been running alone for miles now and there was no sense whatsoever that I was needed by anyone. I could see up ahead there was no one to pick up who was slowing and there was virtually no one behind me holding on anymore.

I hit the mile 20 mile mark, even as I was tiring, only about 30 seconds off pace. and then the wheels fell off.

To the finish:

I mentioned my watch did not even like this race. Well, I had forgotten to remove my saved splits from my marathon last weekend and once I got to mile 20, the memory of my watch was full (pretty lame, now that I think about it. I need a new watch.) However, as we approached the final set of hills for this race, being the bridge that took runners over to and then directly back from Indiana I wasn't concerned about splits. I knew I was not going to make a 3:10.

By now the temperatures were soaring and the completely cloudless sky was baking me. I could tell I was in trouble. However, after running two 8-minute miles to get me to mile 24, I figured I could at least pull off a 3:15. I then hit the bridge and around mile 23 lost all remaining energy. Going over into Indiana and then coming back to Kentucky to put me right before mile 25 took just about everything I had. My mile splits were now approaching 10 minutes or more as I could barely muster a run of more than 400 yards before cramps, dizziness and wobbling took over.

Crowds along this stretch did the best they could to motivate me and other runners. As I passed mile 25 I was shocked to see I had just run an 11:25 minute mile. Tony, the 3:20 pace group leader saddled up to me and I could see he was hurting too and without a single pacer. I told Tony I was hurting and to not wait for me. He told me that he too was going to miss his time and was glad to hear that he was not the only one hurting. he took off and I did my absolute best to keep him in sight. However, my sight was not limited to about 9 feet in front of me.

With one last turn before the straightaway, the 22 year old female passed me. I had no response at all to her energy. In fact, now both of my legs were seizing up after 150 yards of running so I was reduced to a shuffle. I made the final turn, ran about 200 yards and crossed the finish line in 3:24:51, my 72nd slowest marathon ever. (And for thoe stat lovers, this was my third consectuive marathon with a finishing seconds of "51". Weird)

I made it about four more steps before I had to place my hands on my knees. Vision got blurrier and the knees wobbly. I look ahead and saw the one thing I needed to grab before I passed out: my finisher's medal. Once it around my neck, down I went. Nice and slowly though as I did not wish to break anything.

A few seconds later, the medical staff was over me. I have my friend Dean to thank for that as he saw me go down and noticed they hadn't seen me hit the ground. after a few more seconds I made my first ever trip to the medical tent. While I did not receive an IV (I might have actually benefited from one) I was taken care of well.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to rehydrate and feel better. It took me longer to do that after this race than it had in quite some time. Besides ending a streak of 24 consecutive Boston Qualifying times I also failed as my job as a pacer. Granted I had no one to pace but the job remained the same. I knew I would end the streak this summer as I took on both the Leadville and Pikes Peak Marathon but that was something I knew would be a choice. This was not a choice at all.

However, it echoed something I told the listeners at my speech the previous night. I have run 92 Marathons. Each has given me knowledge on how to run this wonderful race. None, however, guarantee success in the next one.

So I took this to heart and realized that on a day when only 6 persons broke 3 hours on a relatively easy course, I had at least persevered when the going got tough. Way tough. As they always say, anyone can run when it feels good. And as much as I understand how much this built character for me, I am sure hoping it feels a heck of a lot more "good" in Pittsburgh next week.

A solid kudos goes out to the people of Lousiville for supportibng their race and the race staff for making sure there was plenty of water and aid available for the runners. I heard there was a very few runners who needed the help which is just amazing.

I also want to thank all of he friends, both new and old, who I got to spend time with this weekend. I look forward to our paths crossing soon.


Ross said...


Great perspective about your experience today.

You continue to put yourself on the line. Most of us can't make that statement

Hot weather is just brutal. Hoping for cooler temps for you.

Christina said...

I really enjoy your race reports after finding you a month or so ago. I had a similar half-marathon race and experience last Sunday in 92 degree temps and I was really discouraged with my finish and "blow up" at the end. But it sounds like that is normal for a hot day.

Thanks for sharing!

1L said...

Hopefully you are ok today! Having run a few hot weather marathons and being a pacer at one (Mad City -05), I can totally relate to your experience. Take it easy this week and recover well. Remember you let NO ONE down!

Reese said...

As you say, you perservered. Thank God you aren't seriously ill.

Brian said...

Good to see that we are all human and have limits. Was the wind much of a factor for you fast people? It was nasty by the time we were coming back from Indiana.

Pacer Brian

Dane said...

Thanks so much, Ross!

I feel better, 1l. Now i am off to Pennsylvania. No rest for the weary.

Thank everyone who was on the course as well, Reese.

Brian, the wind was indeed a bit of a pain. Not cooling at all but just moved the hot air around. Kudos to the city for opening the fire hydrants.

Anonymous said...

I was honored to have met you at the Expo in Louisville this past weekend. Your story inspired me to find my love for running again (after a couple kids, and the busy-ness of life, it was lost). I really REALLY enjoyed my first 1/2 marathon (despite that incredibly hot weather-it did not discourage me!). I've even signed up for my next one-in Indianapolis this Oct. Thanks again for your inspiration!

Sahara said...

Wow. Glad to hear you are ok.

Dean Schuster said...


Wishing you better temperatures and excellent recovery for Pittsburgh next week! Knock em dead!

Had a great time in Louisville. Thanks for the run/lunch/stories. Hope you sold a ton of books!

- Dean

E-Speed said...

goodness, As pacers I think we sometimes think we are above the elements. Sorry the day took such a toll on you! Here's hoping for cooler weather at the Pig and Pittsburgh on Sunday!